SURE, IT'S A HOLIDAY Monday, Jan. 21, but the pillars of the local economy aren't going to drop everything just to remember the birthday of a civil rights pioneer. While civic associations, government offices, and, of course, banks will close in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, what about the companies with the bigger payrolls—let's say, Nordstrom? Microsoft? Boeing? Starbucks? Nope, nay, nu-uh, and, well, no. Microsoft informs us, "That's not a holiday." Boeing claims its unions prefer to skip the observance and add more time off at Christmas. Starbucks says it recognizes diversity by granting two "floating" holidays instead.
Unfortunately, Seattle's major players have a lot of company. According to BNA Inc., a business news service, only about one in four companies nationwide grant their employees a paid holiday on MLK Day. For folks in retail, health care, or communications, especially, the third Monday in January is just another workday. MLK Day is the least observed holiday of the year, BNA reports, losing out even to Presidents Day.
Community activists say businesses trivialize King's contributions to American democracy by ignoring MLK Day. And they feel certain that King, Baptist roots and all, wouldn't approve trading a day recognizing social justice for more time off at Christmas. They fear MLK Day is going the way of Memorial Day (car race, cheap Coke) and Veterans Day (you know, the one right after school starts). "If it becomes just another day off work rather than a day for reflection and action, the meaning is largely lost," says Susan Segall, director of the Pacific Northwest office of the American Friends Service Committee.
On the brighter side, some local companies—Safeco, Puget Sound Energy, and Costco—do observe the holiday. In addition, the MLK Celebration Committee reports that its activities drew record crowds last year, and it hopes to see widespread enthusiasm for King's day this year in the midst of war and threats to civil liberties. And while businesses in general don't recognize MLK Day, those coordinating celebration activities this year report that labor unions and Central District businesses—most notably the Branch Villa Health Care Center, the Snowden Company, and African-American car dealerships—are lending solid support.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration featuring workshops, a rally, and a march gets under way at 9:30 a.m. Mon., Jan. 21 at Garfield High School (23rd and East Jefferson). For more information, call 812-4940.